Use your laptop as a monitor for external source. Finally!

I’ve been asking for a way to use my laptop as a monitor for an external video source for ever.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • I have a headless computer running and I want to poke at it at the console
  • A friend hands me a desktop computer and I want to know what works
  • My friend wants to bring their computer to me to fix, but I don’t have a monitor with me

Enter the Eiphan KVM2USB. This little box plugs into your USB port and provides VGA, PS/2, and USB ports so your laptop can pretend to be a monitor and keyboard/mouse. Slick! For sysadmins, this is a really cool tool.

Before you get too excited, there are a few things you should know. First, this little baby is going to set you back $400. That’s quite a bit of money — especially considering that I can get keyboards and mice for basically free, and get a used LCD monitor for maybe $50. That means that I could set up 4 different computers for this cost. Of course, this nifty device is much smaller and portable than an LCD monitor and the rest of that jazz, but $400 is quite a chunk of change to put out there, especially if I’m going to carry this around with me in my laptop.

Second, you have to install some special drivers to use this hardware. I know that you’re wondering about GNU/Linux support and according to their FAQ:

Although we provide a Linux SDK (API for driver and examples) we do not provide source code for the driver itself. Please contact us if you need a driver compiled for a specific kernel version or kernel setting.

The kvm2usb looks like a great piece of hardware to have support in the Linux kernel. Unfortunately I’m not sure I can convince my work to get one for me, and as I’m not really a kernel hacker I’m not sure I could add support even if I had one. Perhaps the $299 VGA2USB might be a little more attractive to those of us who don’t stuff their pillowcases with Benjamins.

In any case, I’m excited that I’ve found an answer to my age-old question. If anyone knows of other manufacturers who make this kind of hardware, especially if their products are less expensive, please let me know.

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